Bottled water sales in the UK are set to claw back ground lost in the last couple of years, but a big proportion of consumers still believe that the product is "a bit of a con", according to new research.

After rising rapidly, UK bottled water sales began to evaporate in the face of recession and campaigns by environmental groups, as well as a spate of poor summers.  

Volume sales fell by 11% between 2006 and 2008, according to research published today by Mintel (4 November).

But, the decline has slowed to a projected 1% in 2009 and volumes are expected to start "growing steadily" from 2011, regaining 2007 volume sales of 2.5bn litres by 2014, Mintel said.

Jonny Forsyth, senior drinks analyst at Mintel, said: "Consumer confidence is inextricably linked with bottled water consumption. When the decline in confidence began in the latter half of 2007, bottled water became one of the easiest products for cautious consumers to sacrifice.

"However, with consumer confidence rising over recent months, consumers have started to loosen their purse strings and bottled water has been one of the beneficiaries."

The biggest challenge facing the GBP1.9bn (US$3.1bn) bottled water industry in the UK is likely to be value.

Despite more than a third of consumers surveyed saying that bottled water tastes better than tap water, Mintel said there is a "huge question mark" over value for money.

"Only one in ten think of it as value for money, a third think it is "a bit of a con" and four in ten think it is no healthier than tap water," said the research group.

"Consumers need to be reminded of why it is a product worth paying for," added Forsyth.

Evidence of environmental concerns about bottled water among consumers remains unclear. A Mintel survey found that one in eight consumers are influenced by whether the product is locally-sourced, while more than a quarter of consumers are influenced by how easy the bottle is to carry when out and about.